News & Politics

Natalia Veselnitskaya Charged in Federal Court with Obstruction of Justice

Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya speaks during an interview with The Associated Press in Moscow, Russia. (AP Photo/Dmitry Serebryakov, File)

Natalia Veselnitskaya, the Fusion GPS-connected Russian lawyer who set up the infamous Trump Tower meeting in June 2016, was charged in federal court Tuesday with obstruction of justice in connection with her work for Cyprus-based real estate holdings company Prevezon Holdings.

In the case, the Justice Department alleged that Prevezon laundered money stolen in a Russian tax refund fraud scheme discovered by the late Sergei Magnitsky, a Russian tax accountant.

In 2007, Chicago-born financier William Browder hired Magnitsky to investigate the misappropriation of $230 million in taxes his company had paid to the Russian government.  Magnitsky was arrested in 2008 and found beaten to death a year later in a Moscow jail cell, prompting an international uproar. The U.S. went on pass the Magnitsky Act, which brought sanctions against Russian oligarchs suspected of money laundering.

Veselnitskaya represented Prevezon in its defense against the Justice Department’s allegations.

She hired an American law firm, BakerHostetler, which brought on Fusion GPS “to get out Russia’s narrative about Browder and Magnitsky,” according to sources.

Via Fox News:

Federal prosecutors in New York’s Southern District said on Tuesday that Veselnitskaya submitted to the court an “intentionally misleading declaration in opposition to a government motion.”

The motion, according to SDNY, presented “supposed investigative findings by the Russian government—findings purportedly exonerating Veselnitskaya’s clients – under the false pretense that these findings had been independently drafted by the Russian government.”

“As alleged, however, Veselnitskaya concealed from the Court that she, as a member of the defense team in the Prevezon action, had participated in drafting those supposed exculpatory investigative findings in secret cooperation with a senior Russian prosecutor,” federal prosecutors said Tuesday.

“Fabricating evidence – submitting false and deceptive declarations to a federal judge – in an attempt to affect the outcome of pending litigation not only undermines the integrity of the judicial process, but it threatens the ability of our courts and our Government to ensure that justice is done,” U.S. Attorney Geoffrey S. Berman said in a statement.

U.S. District Judge Beryl Howell on January 5 extended the term of the grand jury used by special counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation for another six months. The grand jury was impaneled in July 2017 for an 18-month term and was set to expire last week before the judge’s extension.

Veselnitskaya is most famous for meeting with Donald Trump Jr. and other Trump campaign officials at Trump Tower on June 9, 2016, after Russian contacts told Trump Jr. that the Russian lawyer had dirt on Hillary Clinton. Instead, according to witnesses, she mainly talked about removing U.S. economic sanctions on Russian oligarchs and businesses. Today’s charges against Veselnitskaya are not related to the Trump Tower meeting, although she did focus on issues related to her work on behalf of Prevezon during the meeting.

Transcripts released in May by the Senate Judiciary Committee say that Glenn Simpson, the co-founder of Fusion GPS, had dinner with Veselnitskaya both the day before and the day after she met with Donald Trump Jr.

In an interview with NBC News in November 2017, Veselnitskaya said Simpson had provided her with the incriminating evidence about Democrats that she brought to Trump Tower.

In his testimony, Simpson said he did not know about the meeting, and said the subject never came up at either of the dinners he had with Veselnitskaya.

According to Tablet’s Lee Smith, Veselnitskaya came to the Trump Tower meeting armed with dirt to share on Browder “provided by Fusion GPS in talking points she’d previously rehearsed with Russia’s Prosecutor General, Yuri Chaika.”

As Veselnitskaya told NBC, “I was in effect, the primary source of this information for the Russian Prosecutor General’s office.”

In reference to Fusion GPS’s work on the anti-Magnitsky campaign, Simpson said in his August testimony “that the allegation that we were working for the Russian government then or ever is simply not true.” However, their product on behalf of Russian state interests wound up on the desk of a high-level Russian government official who was nominated to his position by Vladimir Putin. Veselnitskaya liaised with Chaika on the anti-Magnitsky campaign while serving as a point of contact with Fusion GPS. And it appears that information may have flowed the other way, too.

The Obama Justice Department cleared Veselnitskaya under “extraordinary circumstances” before she embarked on her lobbying campaign for Prevezon.